Success Hinges on Afghan Forces, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2010 — Con­di­tions are in place for coali­tion forces to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, but whether achieve­ments can be sus­tained long-term will depend on the Afghans, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.

“The key to our suc­cess is the con­tin­ued expan­sion of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces,” Gates told reporters today dur­ing a White House news brief­ing on the one-year review of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s strat­e­gy plan in Afghanistan. A five-page sum­ma­ry of the clas­si­fied review was made pub­lic today.

“As the Afghans increase their capa­bil­i­ties, we can move in the more chal­leng­ing parts of the coun­try,” Gates said. One of the goals of the mil­i­tary strat­e­gy is to halt Tal­iban gains and reverse their momen­tum, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly build­ing Afghan forces to take the lead against a weak­ened insur­gency, he added.

No one knows now what secu­ri­ty in the coun­try will look like in July when Oba­ma plans to begin draw­ing down troops, Gates said, but the right met­rics are in place to ascer­tain if the goals are being met.

The mil­i­tary cam­paign in Mar­ja, in south­ern Afghanistan’s Hel­mand province, “has tak­en longer and been sig­nif­i­cant­ly more dif­fi­cult” than lead­ers expect­ed, Gates said. How­ev­er, he added, the coalition’s gains there have been so sig­nif­i­cant that secu­ri­ty there is on tar­get to tran­si­tion to Afghan forces.

Coali­tion forces con­tin­ue to focus on Afghanistan’s bor­der with Pak­istan and are mak­ing gains there against the insur­gency, the sec­re­tary said. “They don’t have a free pass at this point,” he said. “There is a lot of kinet­ic action tak­ing place on that bor­der.”

The coalition’s increas­ing­ly strong part­ner­ship with Pak­istan is crit­i­cal to efforts to dis­man­tle al-Qai­da, Gates said. “The Pak­ista­nis are the meat in the sand­wich,” he said. “Every­body knows that fail­ing to deal with the safe havens [in Pak­istan] pos­es a real chal­lenge. But I would argue that we are deal­ing with those safe havens.”

Gates said the review should be looked at broad­ly as to whether the administration’s strat­e­gy is work­ing. “The whole pur­pose of this review was not to relit­i­gate the whole strat­e­gy,” he said, “but to say, ‘How’s it going?’ ” The review also will help to improve those areas that con­tin­ue to be a chal­lenge, he added.

The review is impor­tant in help­ing lead­ers from becom­ing too ambi­tious about Afghanistan and to pin­point those areas where the coali­tion can be effec­tive, Gates said.

“The key here is to iden­ti­fy our objec­tives care­ful­ly,” he said, not­ing that the review and its met­rics help lead­ers know what they have to do to turn over secu­ri­ty to the Afghans with U.S. forces in the back­ground.

“Our goal is not in build­ing a 21st cen­tu­ry Afghanistan,” he said. “Our goal is not in rid­ding the coun­try of all cor­rup­tion, which would be unique in the region. Our goal is to turn back the Tal­iban” so the Afghan gov­ern­ment can take over.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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